Safer Access for all National Societies

Increasing acceptance, security and access to people and communities in need

National Red Cross and Red Crescent Produced in cooperation
with National Red Cross
and Red Crescent Societies

III. Acceptance of the organization III. Acceptance of the organization

Practical tools and reference materials

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National Societies have attained a high degree of acceptance among key stakeholders by providing relevant, context-sensitive humanitarian assistance and protection for people and communities in a manner consistent with the Fundamental Principles and other Movement policies.

National Societies say that the key to acceptance by relevant stakeholders, including “gatekeepers”, lies in being consistently transparent and reliable – demonstrated through the timely and efficient delivery of relevant humanitarian programmes according to their mandate and the Fundamental Principles.

The formula is simple: say what you do, do what you say, and do it well. In this way, you build credibility and trust, and thereby positive perceptions and a solid reputation, which in turn will favourably influence your acceptance, security and access.

The fortune of the Red Cross is the confidence of the population; the Lebanese Red Cross is protected by its activities and has paid a lot to gain this reputation.

Lebanese government official

Additionally, it is vitally important to involve the community in all stages of the National Society’s humanitarian efforts, from assessment, through planning, to implementation. This not only enables people affected by a conflict or other emergency to regain power over their lives and livelihoods, but also builds important relationships of trust, which can increase the likelihood that the community will contribute to your security and access in more difficult times. It also ensures more relevant, effective and culturally sensitive programming.

Performing its work at all times in accordance with the Fundamental Principles  – notably humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence – greatly facilitates the National Society’s acceptance by “all sides” in a dispute.

1Action checklist
  • Be transparent, reliable and credible, and demonstrate your added value through the timely and efficient delivery of relevant humanitarian programmes in accordance with your mandate and the Fundamental Principles.
  • Say what you do, do what you say, and do it well.
  • Involve the community in all stages of your humanitarian efforts, building relationships of trust and ensuring culturally sensitive programming.
  • Hold regular face-to face discussions with public authorities and other key stakeholders, which can be help to build trust, facilitate the exchange of information and further sensitize them to your mandate/roles/emblem, operational plans and adherence to the Fundamental Principles.
  • Use the Fundamental Principles to guide your thoughts, words, decisions and actions at all times.
  • Develop a system to screen potential external partnerships and only engage with organizations that have either an equal or greater level of acceptance by key stakeholders and gatekeepers than your own.
  • Establish a reputation risk management system that includes media tracking and monitoring perceptions of the organization and your personnel; take immediate action to correct misperceptions or address specific problem areas.
  • Establish an effective integrity management system that includes a prevention element.
  • Adopt a distinct and recognized visual identity which positively reinforces your reputation.
  • Coordinate closely with the Movement as the actions of one component can affect the reputation and access of others.

3.0 Introduction

Trust in and acceptance of your organization as a provider of assistance and protection in sensitive and insecure contexts is not a given. It is earned through tangible and targeted actions and measures.

These actions and measures must be taken at all times and not just in the midst of a crisis as many are based on relationships or reputation and require time and consistent effort to build. If this groundwork is done, stakeholders in a situation of heightened insecurity, especially “gatekeepers” who control or influence access to affected people and communities, will be more likely to recognize the added value of the National Society’s neutral, impartial and independent mandate and facilitate its humanitarian response. By the same token, the positive reputation that has taken a National Society years to build can be destroyed in a split second by a misplaced word or action that is not – or perceived as not – neutral, impartial or independent.

Provision of relevant programmes and services

National Societies say that the key to acceptance lies in being consistently transparent and reliable in all their words and actions, demonstrated through the timely and efficient delivery of relevant humanitarian programmes in accordance with their mandate and the Fundamental Principles. Involving community members in all phases of the development and implementation of a programme or service also helps to strengthen trust and relationships within the community, while ensuring the relevance of an activity.

Application of the Fundamental Principles

The importance of the Fundamental Principles as an operational and decision-making tool to preserve the ability to access people in need safely is often underestimated within and outside the Movement. Many perceive the Fundamental Principles merely as a noble expression of the Movement’s ideals and values. Yet it is by consistently applying them in their daily work that many National Societies have earned a reputation as truly neutral, impartial and independent actors. If they are not perceived as such in a sensitive or insecure context, their efforts to provide humanitarian services could well be obstructed, their access to people in need denied, and the safety of their personnel put at risk.

Incorporating the Fundamental Principles into every aspect of the functioning of a National Society is the task of leadership at all levels of the organization.

Did you know?

The Fundamental Principles are more than a set of ideals and values; they are an effective operational tool that, when applied, guides thought processes, communication, decision-making and practice.

Positioning or active acceptance measures include:

  • ensuring that humanitarian actions are relevant to the needs of the affected people and communities and are carried out in a way that does not increase tensions and insecurity (context-sensitive programming) or risk to the affected people;
  • tightening up emblem and logo use and increasing protection and promotion, thereby strengthening the National Society’s unique identity;
  • engaging in dialogue with national and local authorities, armed actors, where possible, and other key stakeholders to promote the mandate and roles of the National Society, stressing the importance of it being able to act in conformity with the Fundamental Principles at all times;
  • managing human resources, including volunteers, in a way that ensures that they represent the values of the National Society and respect the Fundamental Principles, and preserve its reputation as a neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian organization;
  • reinforcing respect for the Movement’s agreed rules and policy framework and the application of the Fundamental Principles to ensure that they guide thought processes, communication, decision-making and actions.

Reputational risk management

No matter how strong or longstanding, a National Society’s relationships and reputation can be rapidly eroded in insecure contexts, as stakeholders will interpret its words and actions according to their perspectives on the situation. “Why are you helping those people and not these?” “Aren’t you associated with the government?” “Why are your volunteers all from that community?” “Why did you call us ‘terrorists’ in your media release?” It takes constant vigilance and effort to prevent or counter these suspicions or perceptions and to convince stakeholders that your actions are indeed neutral, impartial and independent.

Acceptance levels are difficult to measure and tend to fluctuate as the context evolves, requiring constant monitoring and networking with the stakeholders concerned. The key is not to take anything for granted but to regularly check and confirm perceptions of the National Society among stakeholders. If an activity is obstructed, this could be a warning sign of reduced acceptance and thus the predictor of a potential security incident. Timely action to investigate the cause of the impediment is essential, as is action to resolve the situation. Similarly, if a security incident occurs, immediate and thorough investigation is required to determine the source and the cause of the incident and the necessary action taken to protect your personnel from further risk. Each staff member, volunteer and governance member has a role to play in this respect.

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Recruitment, composition and mobilization of personnel

An organization is made up of people. Therefore, it makes sense that the reputation and level of acceptance of the organization as a whole is built on the actions and words of the people who represent it: its staff and volunteers. Their behaviour and their attitudes – sometimes even their ethnicity, their political or religious affiliations or their membership of a specific community – will have an impact not only on their safety and security when deployed, but also on the way the organization is perceived and therefore accepted (see also “Acceptance of the individual”). Therefore, these factors need to be taken into account in human resource management strategies, beginning with recruitment and screening practices. The bottom line is: are your personnel viewed in a positive light and as embodying the principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence? If that is not the case, remedial action is essential.

External partnerships and reputation

Should a National Society decide to work in partnership with another actor or organization, it must be aware that it takes on – at least partially – that organization’s identity and reputation as well. Therefore, the decision must not be taken lightly and careful thought put into how this partnership will affect your own (and the Movement’s) reputation and the impact this may have on your ability to access people in need safely.

Lastly, while the National Society is an independent civil society organization in its own right, it is also part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. This brings with it certain privileges, benefits, obligations and challenges. Other Movement components operating in your country will influence your reputation and your acceptance and vice versa. This dimension needs to be considered when developing your positioning strategies.

What positioning or active acceptance measures  can your organization take to maintain and even increase its acceptance?

Ensure close proximity to the people for whom you provide services and consistently involve them in the planning, design and implementation of activities. Apply the Fundamental Principles at all times, using them to guide communication, decision-making and practice. Have a reputation risk management system in place, including actions to prevent and address inaccurate or negative perceptions.
Create sound human resource mechanisms to guide the recruitment and conduct of personnel. Identify, map and analyse all influential stakeholders; target actions to gain their acceptance at all levels. Develop and enforce an integrity management system to prevent and manage problems rapidly.
Engage in constant dialogue with the public authorities to ensure their support. Ensure the provision of reliable and relevant services; nurture strong, respectful relationships with key stakeholders. Establish a distinct visual identity and ensure it is known and recognized throughout the country
Ensure your activities are guided by the context assessment and deliver them using context-sensitive programming. Carefully scrutinize your engagement and partnerships with other actors to ensure your reputation as a neutral, impartial and independent organization is not compromised. Other actions specific to your context.

To learn more about the actions and measures linked to this element, and to access tools and shared experiences, see the relevant section below, and click on the Safer Access in Action map highlighting individual National Society accounts of the actions and measures they took when operating in sensitive and insecure contexts.

In focus: Sending out the wrong signals

The Movement’s common mission and the effects of globalization and real-time communication mean that the news of one action or word or perceived action or word can spread in minutes, making it more important than ever for a National Society to act in accordance with the Fundamental Principles, Movement Statutes and other Movement policies and to safeguard the image and reputation of each component of the Movement. Not to do so can have serious, life-threatening consequences for National Society and Movement staff and volunteers at home and around the globe and restrict their ability to reach those in need. Perceptions and acceptance can be negatively influenced, for example, through:

  • the use of a particular word or phrase that is not perceived by all as neutral or accepted language;
  • personal behaviour or associations that may not be viewed by all as neutral, ethical or professional;
  • the formation of relationships or external partnerships with individuals or organizations that are not viewed as neutral or impartial;
  • too close an association with the State, which itself may not be perceived by all as neutral and impartial.

3.1 Engaging with local communities

The National Society works closely with communities throughout the country to develop and provide relevant and effective humanitarian programmes and activities.

3.2 Building acceptance internally

Recognizing that the behaviour and acceptance of its personnel are crucial to enhancing positive perceptions of the National Society and consequently its reputation and acceptance, the National Society establishes and implements organizational systems, procedures and guidelines, including a code of conduct, and recruits, deploys, trains and guides its staff and volunteers in a manner that increases their acceptance and hence their security and access. (See also IV. Acceptance of the individual)

3.3 Valuing the National Society’s auxiliary role

The National Society engages in an ongoing dialogue with relevant State bodies to ensure that they understand and see value in the National Society’s mandate to carry out its auxiliary role in the humanitarian field; such bodies also accept that different modes of operation may be needed in order to ensure compliance with the National Society’s requirement for real and perceived neutral, independent and impartial humanitarian action. (See also II. Legal and policy base)

3.4 Using a context-sensitive approach

Response activities are developed on the basis of the context and risk assessment and implemented through a context-sensitive approach that attempts to connect communities rather than divide them unintentionally.

3.5 Operationalising the Fundamental Principles

The Fundamental Principles are known, understood and utilized as an operational tool guiding thought processes, communication, decision-making and practice.

3.6 Stakeholder mapping and analysis

Stakeholders who have an influence on safe access to the affected people and communities must be identified, mapped and analysed so that specific initiatives to increase acceptance by them can be launched.

3.7 Building trustful relationships

Trust, respect and accountability are fostered at all times through transparent and consistent contact, the reliable and predictable provision of services, and relationship-building strategies which promote acceptance by all stakeholders including the State, non-State actors, other responding organizations, the media and community/religious leaders.

3.8 Balancing principled action with partnerships

Mechanisms must be established to guide careful consideration of whether or not to engage in partnerships with external actors to avoid compromising acceptance, security and access. Such relationships and partnerships with actors such as the United Nations (UN), non-government organizations (NGOs), media and private companies will be formed and maintained in a manner that is consistent with Movement policy and preserves the National Society’s unique status and reputation as a neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian organization.

3.9 Managing reputation and perception

A reputation risk management system that includes media tracking, stakeholder perception assessments and action to address inaccurate or negative misperceptions or realities has been established and implemented. (See also VII. External communication and coordination)

3.10 Reinforcing integrity

A system to prevent and manage integrity problems has been established and is used effectively to prevent and address issues that could have a negative impact on effective functioning, safe access and the National Society’s image and reputation.

3.11 Being visually distinct

The National Society has a distinct and recognized visual identity which is associated positively with its humanitarian nature, its mandate and its operational approach. (See also V. Identification and VII. External communication and coordination)